Trudeau visits La Loche to extend sympathies
- Chelsea Laskowski | January 29, 2016
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived in La Loche almost exactly a week after the small northern village was thrown into turmoil when a shooter opened fire in La Loche’s high school.
Trudeau was landing in a community that’s still very much in the throes of grief. Its residents have been forced to bury three of their own – teen brothers Dayne and Drayden Fontaine, and 21-year-old teacher’s assistant Marie Janvier – and are also honouring the fourth victim, Adam Wood, who was a teacher originally from Ontario.
After hours of meetings with hundreds of people in La Loche at the Ducharme Elementary School, Trudeau told reporters why he wanted to come to La Loche.
“I was here very much to listen today,” Trudeau said, adding that he was joined by three cabinet ministers who can share what they’ve heard with their colleagues.
People in La Loche and local leaders have repeatedly said a tragic incident like last Friday’s shooting, with a 17-year-old now in custody and charged with four counts of first-degree murder and seven of attempted murder, could have happened anywhere.
Earlier this week, FSIN vice-chief Bob Merasty said there are “probably a lot of people out there in similar circumstances” to the teen, who need someone to talk to.
“You’ve heard of other communities, First Nations communities and others, and the like, where there’s young people really screaming for help, and that’s what this is, a call for action. It just so happens that it’s in our back yard,” Merasty said.
In response to these voices, Trudeau acknowledged that La Loche's health, infrastructure, and government trust issues are not unique. He noted there northern Saskatchewan, and Canadian problems, require the feds to “restore a right relationship with indigenous people across the country.”
“There is a real need to have a government that is a partner and to face the very concrete and pressing challenges. And we will be exactly that. And it’s not just here, although obviously this is what’s drawing the attention,” he said.
Gilbert Benjamin was part of a Buffalo River Dene Nation drum circle that played a song while Trudeau laid down a wreath at the memorial in front of La Loche’s Dene high school.
Benjamin was also among those who welcomed Trudeau to the La Loche.
“I just shook his hands and I told him ‘our First Nation is in crisis, we need your help’ that’s what I told him. He said, ‘I’m working on it,’” Benjamin said.
“It’s wonderful. I think we need to work together as First Nation, government - whether it’s provincial or federal or First Nation government – because of the crisis in our community… We’re Canadians so we should all be together working for the great cause for our kids.”
Trudeau has vowed to commit to improve and heal La Loche in the long term.
“The federal government will be there, not just now through the difficult time but in the weeks, months, and indeed years to come,” he said, “as we look to grieve, to heal, and to move beyond and thrive in the years to come.”